Environmental rules pressure on the rise in the Golden State

CALIFORNIA LEADS the way in over-regulated farming and the pressures are intensifying, with a new focus on diffuse water pollution and increasing problems retaining pesticide approvals.

Diffuse pollution is a big concern, now being pursued with renewed vigour after water quality failed to respond to efforts to cut point source pollution. “Agriculture is now front and centre stage,” says David Barker, San Diego region water quality engineer.

New federal legislation requires all states to develop and implement a non-point source pollution strategy, including 61 management measures to be adopted by 2013.

At the heart of the policy are basin-plan prohibitions, outlawing diffuse pollution unless operators are complying with the programme. Enforcement ranges from cessation orders to hefty fines.

Adding to farming’s woes are Total Maximum Daily Load figures, defining how much diffuse pollution can be tolerated before water quality standards are breached. The first such calculations are just being completed, showing agriculture needs to cut nutrient losses by up to three-quarters.

Fierce resistance by non-point source groups that has held regulation at bay is going to be less effective as agencies harness state and federal funding to pursue non-point source programmes, says Dr Barker.

Meanwhile, industry efforts to defend pesticide approvals are being redoubled as public funding for free farm advice services is cut by up to 30%. Commodity groups are being created – like the UK’s levy boards – albeit with voluntary not statutory levies.

A big challenge they face is the longer pesticide approvals process in California, requiring extra technical data, typically delaying product launches by a year. Alongside other anti-pesticide pressures, it has made the drive for integrated pest management more vigorous in California than any other US state, with some notable successes.

“In pears there was huge concern about the potential loss of OP insecticide Guthion,” says Lori Berger of the California Minor Crop Council. Now pheromone disruption techniques have cut OP use against number one insect pest, codling moth, by up to 60% in some years, allowing the pesticide approval to be retained. “It is a great example of how partnerships between growers, packers and researchers can work.”

Crop by crop pest management strategic plans are now being formulated to co-ordinate research, education and regulation over the next five to 10 years.